Education, infrastructure and health care were chief among the topics at the governor's Kansan to Kansan budget listening session Tuesday night on the Garden City Community College Campus.
Gov. Laura Kelly was on hand to get immediate feed back on the issues and concerns.
About three dozen area citizens formed small groups and discussed what things were working well in Finney County, what things were falling short and what they would like to see discussed when the Legislature decides the state budget for 2020. Kelly went to each group and listened to their discussions. Following are many of the areas discussed.
Among the areas that are working well in Finney County:
• A strong economic development group that has done a good job of revamping the downtown area. There have been incentives and new restaurants and other retail businesses have opened.
• STAR bonds to make the Sports of the World Complex possible.
• There is a first-class school system.
• The community has cultural diversity with 33 languages in the school system.
• Strong community support and assistance for Tyson after a major fire shut down the facility. Tyson's resolve to keep employees hired and to keep product flowing from different facilities.
• A new dairy plant in the area.
• The staging area for the wind turbine industry in Kansas and the revenue it brings to the city.
Areas that need improvement:
• School system needs more teachers and higher pay for teachers.
• Better insurance for teachers and added prescription drug coverage.
• The high cost of living.
• High property taxes. High taxes could be a deterrent for people stay here and to move here. Some that work in Garden City choose to live elsewhere because property taxes are lower in other locations.
• More doctors and nurses are needed.
• More affordable health care, especially for the elderly.
• More foster care placement families.
• Broadband coverage for the city, county and state. Without complete broadband, the area lacks an incentive for businesses and families to move to the area.
• The whole state needs to market itself all the time.
• A bigger work force needs to be developed.
How do these shared goals and priorities translate to the state budget?
• Education, infrastructure, broadband, property tax, recycling, property taxes, young and elderly health care services, and mental health services are all issues the Legislature will have to address.
• The Legislature needs to work together in a bipartisan effort to produce a strong budget for Kansas.
During her opening remarks before the group sessions, Kelly admitted she was a total budget "wonk" and liked nothing more than working on budgets. She said she spent 10 days in a windowless room going over the last budget line by line and enjoyed every bit of it.
Theoretically, getting the budget done should be easy. The governor prepares a budget and sends it to the Legislature, where it is tweaked and then send it back to the governor for her signature. But in reality, it's not that easy. A lot of listening and compromise is necessary to get a workable budget, Kelly said.
For years, the Legislature raided the highway fund, the education budget was wrapped up in the court system and the state had to borrow $2 billion to pay for shortfalls from the budget cuts from the previous governor, Kelly said.
Kelly's goal for the 2020 budget is to be fiscally responsible, fund critical services, be able to put funds away for a rainy day and to be balanced.
Over half the state budget goes to education so any cuts in the budget will impact education the most. The state budget is based on sales tax, property tax and income tax. If one of those gets modified, its easy to throw things off balance. When the state went through recession, it threw things out of whack. The state can't afford to cut income taxes the way it did, Kelly said.
The state budget spends 63% on education, 26% on human services, 6% on public safety (including the highway patrol and corrections), and the last 5% goes to everything else.
Kelly said she doesn't want a tax increase. She wants to invest in the state's infrastructure, especially broadband; pay down the state debt; fully fund K-12 education; have a fully funded Kansas Department of Transportation by 2023; and reinvest in the child care and foster care system.
"While some progress has been made, there's a long way to go," Kelly said.
Earlier in the day, Kelly presided at the groundbreaking for the new Sports of the World Complex. STAR bonds were instrumental in making the project possible. The project should attract other projects to consider Garden City, Kelly said.
Kelly also praised the Tyson facility and the community for their joint effort to get the facility back on line. The fire could have been an economic disaster affecting the state and region but Tyson's efforts to keep employees and to redirect product to other facilities showed their commitment and dedication to their company and the community.
In medicine, a priority for Kelly is to expand Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law with Medicaid expansion in mind, but Kansas didn't pursue Medicaid expansion. Disproportionate Share Hospital payments to hospitals for patients that can't afford to pay their hospital bill have been reduced. Expanded Medicaid was supposed to help cover the gap but didn't, so expansion of Medicaid will be a top priority for Kelly.
Some hospitals are struggling to stay open and it may take a different source of reimbursement to keep them operating.